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HRW asks Dhaka to end extrajudicial killings

The recent upsurge in the reported extrajudicial killings by security forces began on Jan 11, when emergency was declared, says HRW.

india Updated: Jan 26, 2007 12:21 IST

Charging the Bangladesh security forces with extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests, a United States-based human rights watchdog has asked the government to take steps to put an end to such practices.

"A state of emergency cannot justify killings by the security forces. The government should put a quick end to these abuses," said Human Rights Watch in a new report released on Thursday.

The report demanded an independent inquiry into allegations of these and previous extrajudicial killings.

It quotes local human rights groups to allege that Bangladesh's security forces are implicated in a spate of extrajudicial killings since a state of emergency was declared in the country on January 11.

"The killings have been attributed to members of the army, the police, and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite anti-crime and anti-terrorism force," HRW said.

Bangladesh is in a period of political uncertainty as the country's caretaker government, tasked with running the country until elections, negotiates with the main political parties over an election date and proposed electoral reform.

The recent upsurge in reported extrajudicial killings by security forces, the report says, began on January 11, when the first caretaker government head declared a state of emergency and resigned.

After weeks of violent protests, elections originally set for January 22 were indefinitely postponed.

Based on press accounts and its own investigations, Odhikar attributed eight deaths to RAB, five to the police, and four to the army. Another Bangladeshi human rights group, Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), reported that five people had died in army custody alone since the state of emergency.

HRW said the main English-language newspaper Daily Star reported on January 22 that three people had died in army custody hours after their arrests, although it is not clear if these people are included in the count from human rights groups.

The paper also reported on the two men who died while trying to escape.

Killings in custody have been a persistent problem in Bangladesh, HRW said, adding that during the last large-scale military deployment in 2002, at least 50 people died in army custody in unclear circumstances.

To date, no military personnel are known to have been held criminally responsible for any of the deaths.

In December 2006, HRW says it documented killings by RAB in a detailed report, "Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Torture and Extrajudicial Executions by Bangladesh's Elite Security Force.' RAB has been implicated in more than 350 killings in custody since 2004, the report said.

The government's first step, it stresses, must be to issue a direct order not to kill suspects in custody.

"The government should then aggressively investigate and hold all those who violated the law accountable, or its reputation inside Bangladesh and abroad will suffer," it warns.

"Extrajudicial killings by Bangladesh's security forces put the country's reputation as a respectable contributor to UN peace keeping forces at risk."

Since the current caretaker government assumed power with army backing on January 12, the army, police and RAB have conducted what they call an anti-crime and anti-corruption campaign.

On January 13, the police said that security forces had arrested 2,552 people on "various charges."

On January 17, the government asked the army to stay on the streets for as long as it takes to restore law and order.

That day, the home ministry said that police and RAB had arrested more than 1,700 people.

Three days later, the police said they had arrested 2,265 people during the previous 24 hours, the watchdog said.

"Arrests must be carried out in accordance with the law and due process, not by rounding up huge numbers of people who may or may not have broken the law," it says.

"Putting NGO leaders in prison and holding them incommunicado without any apparent grounds is indefensible."

First Published: Jan 26, 2007 12:21 IST